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THE CATCH

 

SEPTEMBER 2013

 

 

 

I was at the airport the other day, when I had a strange recollection. I was standing in the airport bookshop, browsing through a recent sport biography, when I suddenly thought about the time I went fishing with my uncle.

 

When I was no more than six years old, my mother and I went to visit her sister. They lived in the country, and so it was a long drive. On these long drives, I remember having a great fear that perhaps I would get car sick; this happened to me once and it left quite a mark on my mind as a young boy. I had actually  got carsick the last time we had visited my aunt and uncle, and so, when my mother said we were visiting them again, I promptly began to feel uneasy. My mother could see this, and so distracted me with excitement: I was to be going fishing, with my uncle! With uncle Julius!

We arrived. I was quite surprised how easy the journey was, and when we did arrive, we were there for only a few minutes. Uncle Julius was already outside, holding several bags, wearing what can only be described as a fisherman’s hat, and talking earnestly on the phone. The car was already running. Before long, I was getting into Julius’s car, my mother saying, ‘make sure you wear your waterproof.’ Aunt Mag was standing at the door, with a great big smile, welcoming my mum into her home. She gave me a few waves, pretended to catch a big fish, and then uncle Julius jumped in the car, turned to me in the back, and said, “hello there, stinker!”

We drove to the local river, or lake, I cannot remember. No, it was definitely a river, for I can remember Uncle Julius and I sitting by what must have been the riverbank; it was a great big scruffy river bank, on a typical grey and rainy English day.

We were  there for the whole day. In the early afternoon, uncle Julius smoked his pipe and we spoke about the World Cup, about Michael Owen, about football; positions, teams, strikers, goalkeepers. This was our common ground. And I loved football, I played it almost everyday. All my friends loved football; I met with them after school and we had shootouts, matches; this was life back then, and though retrospectively, it was simple and easy, this life was still important to me at the time.

Sitting by the river bank quickly got boring. I wanted to play football; all this land, all this grass and space, perfect for a game. We did not have a ball that day, so we couldn’t even have a kickabout, but even if we did, I’m not sure Julius would have done this – no perhaps, he would, but not properly, not like with my friends, or with my father. My father wasn’t there that day.

 

Julius liked fishing, this much I could see. He liked it even when it rained, and when the sky was grey. That day we ate sandwiches, I drank juice. It wasn’t much of a lunch. This disappointed me too. Julius didn’t care in the slightest about this; food was food, fishing was fishing, and we were here to fish, not that I had a rod. Julius fished, and I sat and watched, stared at the water, watched the birds, thought about what it would be like if I had a ball to play with.

Julius and I didn’t talk much. He was too old and too clever, not that he showed this, but even back then, I could feel this essence about him, a certain meticulousness; I was just a boy, his wife’s sister’s son, who happened to be here with him as he fished. Perhaps he viewed me merely as a distraction to core fishing, necessary company to please his wife, a family chore, I don’t know. But this is not a criticism of Julius’ character; I was six years old and he was fishing, quietly enjoying his space, his solitude. Did I know what solitude was back then? Well I didn’t know the word at the time, but when I think of sitting by that rough, beaten down riverbank, watching Julius fish with both an air of passionate sincerity and beaten acquiescence, perhaps this ‘something’ about that day was evident to me back then.  It felt sad to sit there in the damp cold, by the river, with only the weather startled birds, trying to catch fish, a middle aged man trying to relate to a six year old boy, whilst still trying to capture that feeling of peace that made him go fishing in the first place.

 

 

Eventually it got dark, and so we packed up our things and got back in the car. The drive back home was short. Julius’ car was good: it was new, the lights were neon, fuzzy, the radio was clear; he played music, and we both kept quiet.

When we made it back to his house, my mother and Aunt Mag asked us if we had caught anything.

Julius was unpacking everything, taking off his coat and hat. “Nothing!”

The women gasped, feigned disappointment. “What, nothing at all?” Aunt Mag was curious, slightly annoyed.

Uncle Julius made a great big grin. “Ab-so-lute-ly, nothing.”

There were a few laughs, cries of “what!”

Terry pointed at me. “It was his fault. With him I couldn’t catch anything. Couldn’t even catch a cold with him!”

I looked at the women who were smiling, then at uncle Julius, who was also now smiling. I was confused, for it was true: we’d caught nothing that day.